The Chicago Blackhawks have been making an incredible run to start the season, but I am still not worried; impressed, yes; worried, no.
Jan 19, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock and Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) and Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and Blues general manager Doug Armstrong pose with the general manager of the year coach of the year and goalie of the year trophies before the game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Last season the St. Louis Blues finished the season just shy of a President’s Trophy. Starting the season a below average 6-7-0. Then the Blues hired Coach Ken Hitchcock and never looked back. The season ended with Hitchcock’s Blues posting a 43-15-11 record. That means that just over 78% of the Blues games under Hitchcock resulted in at least one point. For the season, the St. Louis Blues managed to pick up a point in just over 63% of their games played, including an awful start and a slow finish to the season.
This season the Blues have looked a lot less like themselves and more like the Chicago Blackhawks of last season. With constant lackluster performances from their goaltenders and a seemingly unmotivated lineup; the Blues are managing to get by in the league, but not impressing anyone. At this pace, if they do make the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues look like a team that would not make it past the first round. Again much like the Blackhawks of last season.
So while many in the Central Division and the NHL as a whole have jumped on the bandwagon of how the Blackhawks are one of the best teams in NHL history, I don’t buy it.
The Chicago Blackhawks are quickly putting up incredible numbers and are playing like the best team in the league. It feels like they have more depth than most teams. It feels like they can’t be beaten. It feels like that, but it is not that way.
While the Chicago Blackhawks have a record of 21-0-3 through their first 24 games, the Anaheim Ducks have a record of 16-3-3 through their first 22. Often times the team with less national attention is the team with less pressure (see the St. Louis Blues of last season). Anaheim does not have a streak putting pressure on its key players; Anaheim has the same amount of depth, arguably more skill in net, and arguably better on ice leadership. The Blackhawks and Ducks have only met once this season and guess who came out on top in that game, the Ducks. If there is a team I am worried about in the West, it is the Ducks.
Don’t get me wrong, the Blackhawks are a good team, but how many opponents have had their number through the majority of a game to lose it in the final minutes. The recipe to win in the NHL is the same for every team, outskate/outwork the other team. Chicago’s players are playing a full 60 minutes plus. They are playing a 200 foot game. Most teams in the league still aren’t playing that style of hockey and are paying the price for it. Quality teams are still adjusting to the post lockout schedule after sitting around for months and months. Chicago is not right now and that is why they are continuing to win, but the streak will end and soon.
Any team will be able to beat the Hawks too, if they can manage to play a full game and not lose their bearings. The pressure of the streak seems to be falling on opponents right now more than the Hawks. Opponents are losing games in the final minutes. There is a fear that the Hawks will come back, which lets them. If a team can manage to focus on their own game they will win.
Consider that the Blackhawks have played the Columbus Blue Jackets (one of the worst teams in the NHL according to the standings) three times this season. On each occasion the Hawks were only able to beat the Jackets by one goal and it took overtime on one of those occasions. If the worst team statistically can come that close, a better team can shut the door on the record books.
Everyone needs to remember that in a shortened NHL season, one week can make the world of difference. One month could spell the end of a team’s playoffs hopes and turn them from a contender to a seller at the trade deadline on April 3rd. While the Blackhawks have all but secured the Central Division title so far this season and will certainly make the playoffs, they are not invincible. Once they lose a game they have to prove they can get right back in the picture and win the next one. If they go into a losing streak of 5, 6, 7 games or more, they are right back with the rest of the pack in the West. Their lead isn’t unsurpassable if the Blackhawks so much as stumble at any point in this season. Until they can prove that they can win after losing a hard fought game not due to opponents being unable to play a full 60 minutes, I am not going to worry about this Hawks team.
Commentators and fans alike point to Chicago’s schedule saying that they are playing quality teams in the West and still winning games. It’s true, they are, but so is every other team in the West and we need to remember that this is not an undefeated team. In fact, they have lost three games. The last team to have this kind of streak was in 1979-80 when the Philadelphia Flyers did it, but guess what? They lost the Stanley Cup. No matter how great the Blackhawks are in the regular season, if they make it to the Stanley Cup Finals they will be playing a team they haven’t seen all season. So no matter if you think they have the hardest or easiest schedule in the league this season, the level of competition goes out the window for any team if they reach the finals.
Jan 2, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; An injured Chicago Blackhawks left wing Daniel Carcillo (13) is helped off the ice by defenseman John Scott (32) and right wing Jamal Mayers (22) against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
So while many in the world of sports are already declaring the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup champions, I don’t buy it. In fact, I won’t and you shouldn’t until you see Jonathon Toews actually holding the cup. Anything can happen in a shortened season. An impossible winning streak can be accomplished, but a losing streak could strike any team at any time. Injuries are sure to happen, just ask the St. Louis Blues. There are lots of obstacles to winning the cup in a short season and the Blackhawks will soon run into their own.
So while the Blackhawks are making an incredible run now, look back in July and see if you are still as confident about their team. Maybe they will have a season to remember for the rest of your life, or maybe they are just setting a record now that they will have the pressure of living up to the rest of the year.
The Blues take the ice again tonight in Phoenix and will look to start their own winning streak with Jake Allen in net. Be sure to check out our gameday preview and tune in to Fox Sports Midwest tonight.
As always, LET’S GO BLUES! And just for this one piece, Beat the Hawks!